The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd tells the story of 14-year-old Lily Owen, who suffers constant abuse at the hands of her father, and longs hopelessly for a better life with her mother, who Lily accidentally killed when she was was only 4 years old. Lily’s adventure begins when she decides she can no longer bear living with her father, and she runs away with her maid, Rosaleen. The pair end up at a beekeeper’s house in South Carolina, a place Lily instinctively feels holds some connection to her mother. Lily instantly becomes attached to the three sisters who inhabit the house: May, June, and August, and grows especially fond of August, who runs the beehives. During her stay with the Boatwright sisters, Lily learns more about her mother–good and bad. She struggles with her feelings towards her mother, as well as her passing, but is finally able to move on and start a new life with the Boatwright sisters.
The Secret Life of Bees was wonderful for many reasons, but I think my favorite part about it was how well the characters were developed. While reading, I felt like I truly knew and cared about Lily and the Boatwright sisters, and I think actually caring about the main characters in a novel makes reading it much more enjoyable. Because I care about, and want to know about what is going to happen to the protagonist, the suspense level increases and I read the book much faster.
Another aspect of the novel I appreciated was Kidd’s use of flashbacks to develop an emotional connection between Lily and the reader. Lily’s vivid memory of how she accidentally shot her mother made me sympathetic and compassionate, and because the flashbacks are so well-written and realistic, I felt like I was actually there, experiencing the horrific event.
Lastly, I thought that Kidd’s use of symbolism was commendable. Her use of the bees to describe Lily’s relationship with her mother, as well as the Boatwright sisters, was so beautiful and touching, and such a creative way to explain Lily’s need for a maternal presence in her life.
While I believe The Secret LIfe of Bees could be enjoyed by virtually anyone over the age of ten, I think the book is more targeted towards women. There are definitely some “mushy” moments, and the books is centered around an entirely female community–with the exception of three or four somewhat unimportant male characters. This book would be perfect for any high-school girl.
I rate this book 10/10 for Sue Monk Kidd’s exemplary character development, emotional depth, and flawless use of symbolism.